[Viewpoint]A backward policy repeats itself

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[Viewpoint]A backward policy repeats itself

I still remember it as clearly as if it happened yesterday. It was during summer vacation in 1980, when I was a senior in high school. I was studying in a very hot library at school to prepare for the college entrance exams that each university offered. Back then, students took two different tests -- the preliminary test and the universities’ own tests.
The students’ preliminary tests covered more than 10 subjects. As long as a student got a high score on that test, he or she could get into a university. However, the prestigious schools recruited most of their students with their own tests. These tests consisted of Korean language and literature, English and mathematics. They were very difficult. Smart students usually prepared for those tests. But that afternoon, a student stormed into the library and cried out, “The universities won’t be offering their own tests! We’re doomed!”
The Chun Doo Hwan regime announced overnight that it had a new policy requiring schools to abandon their tests, putting the priority on students’ grades in their schools and prohibiting private tutoring. This happened about five months before the college entrance tests. The regime did not care whether the students suffered.
Like today, the government had a good cause. The military regime claimed that private tutoring was so prevalent that poor people who could not afford it felt deprived. Putting priority on students’ grades would improve the public education system. It is the same story we are hearing now.
Many students had to change their plans abruptly to enter university. But no one could protest the policy because it happened during a despotic military regime. Even though I was young and naive, I felt hostile about my oppression by the powerful, who did so in the name of policy.
Twenty-seven years later, we are witnessing pretty much the same situation. With only a couple of months left before the university entrance examinations, the Education Ministry has ordered each university to count their students’ high school grades as more than 50 percent of the total consideration for admissions. The ministry announced that if a university did not follow the order, the ministry would take every possible measure against it.
The ministry’s order makes the College Scholastic Ability Test and the college entrance essay test meaningless. It is the same as telling universities to select students only based on their grades from high school. That means that most of the smart students at elite high schools will have little chance to enter Korea’s elite universities.
They have two options: Either they go to middle- or low-level universities or pay a great deal to go to universities abroad that acknowledge their talent.
Perhaps smart junior high school students will try to adopt fake addresses in the countryside to attend a high school where the competition is less fierce and their chances of getting into a good university would be better. This is nonsense.
The president’s recent emphasis on student’s grades was the reason for the new measure. However, there are no legal grounds for the Education Ministry to interfere with private universities’ recruitment of students. So, the ministers involved got together and discussed possible ideas. They came up with such measures as “If they do not follow the order, the government will cut off financial sponsorship,” or “It will cut down the maximum number of faculty.” They are not armed, but these are certainly threats. This is exactly the same as what the military regime did.
Kim Shin-il, the education minister, was a professor of education. He maintained he was convinced that universities must have autonomy. It is hard to believe he tacitly approved this barbarous measure. This shows that collusion between the powerful and intellectuals can occur, both under military and civilian regimes. This thought leaves a bitter aftertaste.
Our neighboring countries, Japan and China, are running at full speed toward the 21st century. But Korea’s education policy has been going backward for decades. These days, dreamy ideas about egalitarianism and humanitarianism are pervasive, but these ideas are far from the flow of world history and our education reality. Besides, whenever a new administration enters office, government officials in charge of education swing another way.
In the last phase of the Roh administration, many absurd things are happening. I wish that it would not rush to “reform” education policy. Our children did nothing to deserve this hardship.

* The writer is the senior city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Chong-hyuk
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